Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 in Review

Going through my photos for 2011, I have come across a few that I have either neglected and/or forgotten to post, so I am liberating these from my hard-drive and plastering them here for posterity.

In no particular order, and with no particular theme, here are a few images of 2011:

The new super-deluxe, double-decker, twice-the-fun cat bed.  With 3 cats, do you think any one of them would have adopted this as their favorite resting place?  I even put it in front of the wood stove, with limited success:
Ohhh.  I have a taker - it's little Schatzie. For about all of 5 minutes.
January sunset over the cut corn-fields.  This is the view out of the living room window, facing west.  (I don't know why I state that - it should be obvious).
Awwww.  We lost our Popina in 2011.  That made me very sad.  Here she is sitting in the kitchen window, AKA my wide-screen TV, sniffing the wilting blooms of my Christmas cactus.
I waged a (hopefully) winning battle against anything that had thorns or spines in the garden.  This thistle would have grown to 6 feet tall had I not eradicated it:
And in a stark contrast to the spiky thistle, here's some mullein, also know as bunny's ear or flannel leaf.  This plant was spared:
My favorite Elm tree survived another year.  It's a favorite perch for crows and hawks:
Two of the four barn doors on the front of our barn.  One day we're going to have to pull the Elderberry bush out.  But every year, it gives us so many berries, it's a hard call.  Eventually...
Awww.  More Weenie Popeenie photos!  Popina was always on the prowl.  I have never seen a cat with such a huge prey-drive in my life.  She was unreal:
Moss on the side of the barn.  Under the same category as the Elderberry bush, one day we'll have to clean all of this up.  Until then, we'll enjoy the verdant fuzziness:
Another glorious sunset:
And yet another front moving in.  It's so nice when the corn starts to grow, and things get green again.  At this point during the season, we've had enough of cold weather and dormancy - give us green and give us growth!
I was going to post about these horseflies.  For the first time in years, we've had huge (no, let me repeat:  HUGE) horseflies.  These rip out a piece of flesh.  These are more common in the higher north, but this year,we had 'em.  For scale, the orange flasher in the photo is about 1.5" high.  Who needs a fly swatter?  Give me a sledge-hammer:
Little Tessie is enjoying the new cat basket.  Again, for all of 15 minutes:
Another glorious sunset.  Why do I spend so much time staring out of the window?  Well...the same reason you spend so much time staring at a TV set probably.  Just the stuff I watch is probably prettier, and isn't interrupted by commercials.
Another big, fat gratuitous cat photo.  BobCat's such a motivator:
And again on Channel 4, another glorious sunset scheduled for exactly 6:17PM, sponsored by Mother Earth:
The construction of Highway 30.  This huge overpass is going to link Highway 20 to Highway 30 and Highway 540.  Those cranes were enormous.
As the metal girders for the overpass were trucked in, they caused massive traffic jams around the Montreal area.  They must have been about 150' long, and were hauled on these gigantic dollies with tons of pilot and police cars.  You couldn't miss them, and they were impressive to watch rolling down the highway:
The nightly news on Channel 4, brought to you by Shim Farm Central:
Oh my dog.  We finished the floor in Eric's office/atelier.  It's been months now, and it still exciting:
If the floor weren't enough, Eric finished the window frame and molding.  Gorgeous, just gorgeous, I tell you!  A Hallmark Moment of Home Renovation.  This room is officially DONE!
I wanted to show you how I machine-steek my Lopi sweaters.  I made yet another one.  Actually, I made two, but who's counting?  Here I hand-basted my sewing line beforehand.  Had I not done this extra little step, I would not have been able to tell where to sew.  Unfortunately, my machine-sewing tutorial stops here.  You'll just have to wing the rest.  I did.

Freezing rain.  Beautiful in just the right quantity.  Photo credit goes to Eric:
Time to haul out the Christmas lights.  Unfortunately, I keep these lit until, what...maybe March?  My winter sanity depends on these lights.
Finally!  I found a use for my frogged Malabrigo!  Behold, the GAP-tastic cowl.  This wonderful pattern, using 2 strands knitted together, nicely mitigates the wild variation in colour of this hand-dyed yarn.  Brilliant!  And wearable?  You have no clue.  It's like wearing a hug.  Cast-on 131 stitches on an 8mm needle and knit in a K1P1 pattern for 15 inches.  Cast off and fall in loooove!
Yeah.  So I'm obsessed with the window frame.  I want you to stare at it as much as I stare at it.  Stare away.  It's finished.  I can hardly believe my eyes.

And it's not just nice, it's gorgeous.  Eric swore a lot finishing it.  He should have his mouth washed out with Varsol.  Once again, Eric nearly met his paint-finish Waterloo.  But lookit that shine, baby!
And just because it actually snowed before Christmas, here's another photo of the fields across the street.  Note the snow on the road.  When the tractors leave tread-marks like this, the roads are cold.  I think it was -18C (about 0F) the day I took this photo.  Unless you're used to driving in these conditions, take heed.  We don't call them greasy roads for nothing.  And since our road was just repaved and the ditches were dug out and they're even deeper, you'll go in further if you drive off the road.  This combined with the fact our newly paved road doesn't have a shoulder anymore should make for some interesting extrications this winter season:
I have been so good bashing away on my Lopi haul.  I'm about ready to place another order...but wait!  Isn't one of my resolutions for 2012 to use up my stash first?  Maybe Lopi isn't considered as stash wool anymore, but a staple, something like a major food group in my knitting world?  Can't we make an exception for Lopi?  Since it's my resolution, I'm making a new rule.  No new wool until stashed wool has been used.  Except for Lopi.  And if buying new wool to combine with stash wool is allowed...well...let's just play my knitting resolutions for 2012 by ear, shall we?
This "Ranga" pattern from Lopi book 29 is gorgeous, if I may say so myself!  I also just realized I wanted to re-sew one of those little claps that's a bit off-kilter and forgot to!  Another ridiculously quick knit, save for the yoke.  Somehow, all those purls in the yoke combined with the steek purls threw me off a bit.  Stitch marker or no stitch marker, I had a mental block when it came to following the chart.  If you're a knitter and your eyes aren't glazing over yet, go back up to my photo of this sweater being machine steeked.  See what I mean?  It's like a forest in there!
And here's a photo that proves that those crazy Icelanders love their floats, and with good reason!  Lopi is super-wool, remember?  No need to twist those long floats, just let them float!  It has nothing to do with lack of craftsmanship, or laziness, but more with practicality and time-saving.  Those floats will felt with wear, and make an almost double-lined fabric with time.  Warm?  You think?   Super-freakin' warm is more like it.
Never again will I make a surprise sweater for Eric.  NEVAR, did you hear me?  (That's more of a mental note for yours truly).  Moving right along.  Okay.  So I knit this Fugl (code name:  Birdie) for Eric in like, 5 days.  Super-easy.  Just super-not-the-right-size.  My Dad's getting this one instead.  Eric's got biceps that could fix your clock.  Next one's going to be an XXL modified for Eric's arms.  I also used his old sweaters his Mom knit as a template.  Guess what?  All the arms are too long.  That'll teach me.
So, remember the part of my new year's resolution to use my wool stash before buying more new wool?  Part of that therapy involves spreading wooly goodness all over the floor in the living room whilst one's spouse is away and can't observe hoarding tendencies the likes of which are shamefully displayed above.  The good news that I consolidated 5 Rubbermaid containers into 3, and expropriated one for Victoria's guts, which were somehow unceremoniously spread around under the staircase.  It also soothed my nerves a bit, and organizing my stash made me realize that I had blown things out of proportion.  I think.
All my sock wool in one happy container.  See the P-touch label maker?  Everything is labelled now too!  No more opening lids in search of what again?  Sock Wool.  I better get cranking again, and soon.  Maybe tomorrow.  Another plan for 2012.  Even more socks.  This stuff was bought in July when I went to Germany.

So there you have it.  2011 in photo review.  A Good Year, all told.  Next year will be even better, I always say.

With time comes experience, the more you know, the better you do.

Wisdom is the saving grace of aging.

Happy 2012.  Health.  Happiness.  All that is good.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas!

Just in time for Christmas...snow!

Despite Environment Canada's dire "green Christmas" prediction, it snowed!  And now with temperatures hovering near -15C, we'll have a white Christmas after all.  No chance of  the snow melting over the next few days with temperatures like that.
I think we've had one of the mildest falls in recent history.  No amount of accumulation until December 23! That's very rare for our area where I think we can count maybe one or two green Christmases in maybe the past 50 years.

On December 21, we had a bit of freezing rain, and the next day, when the sun came out, it was glorious!

On the home front, the turkey dressing is made, and I've probably eaten about a third already, hoovering it right out of the Pyrex dish.  It's irresistible, dressing.  I can barely wait for turkey dinner tonight.  Eric is working on the 25th and 26th, so we've moved the turkey dinner up to accommodate him.  We've learned to roll with the punches around here, where Eric's work schedule is concerned.

My knitting needles have been bashing furiously away, one "One Skein - A Stole" knit out of Noro Kureyon sock yarn for my co-worker, blocked just under the gun, and a pair of Lopi "Duffers" for another knit-worthy friend.  I even managed to find a use for my frogged Malabrigo merino, but that will be a post unto its own!  Eric's getting a Lopi sweater for Christmas that needs to have just the zipper sewn in.  In my defense, it's already basted, and I need probably 2 hours or so to finish it properly, but that will have to wait until tomorrow, unfortunately!  Oh well.  The best intentions die fast as I always say!  It's hard to finish a sweater when the recipient is nearby.  As it was, I knit this sweater in secret, throwing it into the dryer (the one place I knew Eric would never look...) when I heard his footsteps coming down the stairs.

Besides Christmas baking and cooking, shopping and wrapping, knitting and working, Christmas Day will come whether we're ready or not!  You might as well sit back and enjoy the ride.

So to all our virtual friends near and far, from our house to yours, I wish you a very Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Skor Shortbread

Shortbread cookies didn't appeal to me until very recently.  During summer and winter school breaks, I used to work in a commercial kitchen.  One December, I had to bake an even thousand of Granny Knight's shortbread cookies for Christmas receptions.  That year, the chef decided that Crème de menthe parfaits topped with Granny's shortbread was the de rigeur Christmas dessert.  With a maraschino cherry on top, it looked like a yuletide train-wreck.  Still today, the smell of crème de menthe makes my gag reflex kick in.  Just looking at a bottle of day-glo green de Kuyper in a liquor store is enough to make me avert my gaze and shuffle along quickly.   After that holiday season was over, it was only normal that simply thinking about shortbread was a form of self-inflicted torture.

Despite the fact that everyone raved about my baking skills and the light, tender, melt-in-your-mouth shortbread I managed to create, the beauty of shortbread was lost on me.  I simply used to throw about 5 pounds of butter in the huge, industrial Hobart mixer and put it on BEAT and walk away for about 10 minutes.  When the mixer started to sound like the space shuttle about to take off, it was my cue to add flour and cornstarch and icing sugar, finishing the dough before the old gray Hobart launched itself into orbit.  To say I used to abuse the dough was an understatement.  I put so much disdain into making those cookies, that when people commented, "I can just taste the love that went into these", it was all I could do to stop my 18 year-old eyes from rolling back into my head.  If only you knew - was what I'd think.  Thankfully, the edit and pause buttons in my brain were still functioning in those days.  I'd smile gracefully and nod my head.

To this day, I attribute beating the hell out of the butter to my shortbread success.  That and Granny Knight's recipe - which I have duly repressed.

Last winter, I came across this recipe that would change my mind about shortbread forever.

Skor Shortbread.  I mean -  think about it - a Skor bar in any form is amazing, and baked up in this shortbread, it's nothing short of divine.  You cannot go wrong.

These make great gifts.  And they're easy - just mix, pat, bake and cut.  No fancy shaping, no chilling and rolling out, no icing, just straight-up mix, pat, bake and cut.  Easy-peasy.  Go out and buy yourself some cute Christmas cookie tins, make a few batches, and you'll be set for those last-minute OMG-I-have-to-bring-something-along gifts.

Skor Shortbread

2 - 39g Skor Chocolate Bars
3/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup sifted icing sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt
1-1/4 cup flour

Preheat oven to 300F.

Crush one Skor bar into rough, 1/4" pieces.  Set aside remaining chocolate bar.

Beat butter until smooth.  Gradually beat in sugar until mixture is light and fluffy.

Mix in vanilla and salt.

Using a mixing spoon, mix in 1 cup of flour until just mixed.  Add chopped Skor bar along with remaining 1/4 cup flour. 

Pat into an ungreased 8" square baking dish, and using floured fingers, pat into an even thickness.  Pierce with a fork every 1".

Finely chop remaining chocolate bar, and sprinkle on top.

Bake on bottom rack of 300F preheated oven, about 35 to 40 minutes, until edges are golden brown and middle is pale golden.  Immediately cut into squares.  Cool completely in pan.

My Notes:

Buy the 4-pack of Skor bars at the grocery store.  You can thank me when you make your second batch and don't have to run out for more.

If you have Skor baking bits, by all means, use them.  I also add in a small handful of chocolate chips when substituting them and use my trusty Braun blender to chop everything finer than 1/4" pieces...I'm all about consistency like that.  Your cookie - your choice.

I line my metal baking pan with parchment paper, this helps the unmolding.
The original recipe calls to cut 16 squares - I cut them in half again on the diagonal, so I end up with 32 triangles.  It's your preference.  The more the merrier in my books.
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